Considering Famous Military Generals as Managers: Douglas Haig

by Patrick Dubuque

haigWelcome to the second entry in a long-running series, in which we take select well-known military leaders and rip them out of their historical context, unfairly gauging how they would perform in the role of professional baseball manager. Despite the endless font of human conflict in human history, we remain in the Great War, this time selecting the commander of the British Expeditionary Forces, Field Marshall Douglas Haig.

Few leaders have suffered so much ignominy in victory as Haig, whose tactics not only decimated a generation of young men, but did so in perhaps the most senseless of fashions. Beloved in his time, history hasn’t been kind on this particular mustache, and now he is probably most famous for being satirized by Stephen Fry as General Melchett in Blackadder Goes Forth. “The Butcher of the Somme” threw wave upon wave of his soldiers into no-man’s land, over broken earth, barbed wire, poison gas, and machine gun turrets.

Strategic Tendencies: Haig cut his teeth on the Boer War, where he developed a fondness for the quick strike capability of cavalry. Twenty years later, he was still searching for mobility to provide him with an early, decisive blow against the enemy, destroying their morale. The running game would be a major part of his arsenal. An inveterate optimist, Haig would call a hit-and-run every time a runner reached first, because he couldn’t imagine that the hitter would swing through the pitch.

That same philosophy of manifest destiny would cause him to overwork his pitchers badly, in part because he would believe they could draw on that last little ounce of magic, and in part because changing strategies mid-battle was a sign of weakness.

Defensive Philosophy: You don’t win wars or baseball games by defending. It’s a fact.

Roster Construction: Haig wouldn’t worry about relief pitchers, reverting to a fifties or sixties-era bullpen. Instead, he’d provide himself with a large bench, mostly of fleet runners, and expend them early and often in order to press any hint of advantage.

Chemistry and Leadership: Despite his failures, Haig hung on to his job in part because he was able to swim in the center of the political spectrum, showing loyalty to his subordinates until it became politically dangerous to do so. As a manager, Haig would be very hands-off; he’s the kind of guy who would visit the mound, have his pitcher tell him he could get the next guy out, and believe him. His mediocre public speaking skills and boundless, repetitive optimism would have made him a legendarily terrible postgame interview.

Best Fit: Haig is a man who fought as if there were no tomorrow, both in terms of courage and foresight. So, the San Diego Padres.

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